The UCF men’s basketball team lost their third game of the season Wednesday night, on the road to cross-state rival USF 69-65. The loss dropped UCF to 7-3 on the year.
While they were in the game throughout its entirety, they simply couldn’t get over the hump and make a run big enough to come back. The problem right now is that they can’t get into a good rhythm and put together a complete game.
The season is still young and the team is young too, but it is time for head coach Kirk Speraw to tighten his rotation, especially when the Knights are playing teams from the Big East like USF and Connecticut, who they will play next.
Right now, UCF has eight players averaging at least 18 minutes a game, which is no big deal except for the fact that some players have separated from the pack and should be carrying larger loads of playing time.
I’ve broken down the Knights’ roster into three categories:
1. Players who can play and maybe start for BCS conference teams.
2. Players who are just a level below but can sometimes play up to the level of BCS conferences.
3. Players who are perfect for Conference-USA play and are fine in limited minutes against the better teams.
The Knights have two studs (BCS conference quality players) on their roster right now in freshmen Keith Clanton and Dave Diakite. They need to each be playing at least 30 minutes against the best teams, even if they struggle a little because they are freshmen. They just simply give the Knights the best chance to win and compete at the highest level, especially physically, which is where the Knights often fall short against the better teams.
Clanton has come around and established himself as a rare and top talent for this UCF team. Although he turns the ball over quite a bit for a big man, he is UCF’s best low-post scorer and defender, second best rebounder, and a smart player. He is still trying to find the best way to fit in with his teammates and is just about there. He is ready to play in big games and getting just 19 minutes in the USF game, even though he was struggling a lot (four turnovers, but have four steals), is not going to give the Knights their best chance to win.
Diakite is the best athlete the Knights have probably ever had, and when he is not in foul trouble, there is absolutely no reason for him to be on the bench. He is the team’s best rebounder despite being just 6'6" and more importantly, he is a terror on the offensive glass.
He has struggled of late mainly because of foul trouble, but saw just 22 minutes against USF despite not being in foul trouble until the very end of the game. The Knights gave up 12 offensive rebounds to the Bulls. For an explanation, look no further than Diakite’s absence from the game.
The second level players for the Knights are A.J. Rompza, A.J. Tyler, Isaac Sosa, and Marcus Jordan. These guys can all play big minutes, but there are reasons why they shouldn’t against certain matchups.
Rompza is on the brink of a level one player but is too small and not quick enough to control a game consistently, but makes up for it a lot of times with his hustle and heart. He too, needs to be in the game for 30-plus minutes against the best teams, with Taylor Young acting as a perfect spell for him to get rest. The offense just runs differently with him on the court as opposed to when he’s on the bench.
Tyler is not enough of a banger for UCF to rely on him to get rebounds if he doesn’t have Clanton or Diakite playing beside him. He is solid defensively, developing offensively, and most importantly, gives UCF an outside threat from the center position. He needs to play a lot too. Tyler just can’t be expected to control the paint by himself, which means the Knights can’t go small with him in the game.
Sosa is great for spreading the floor and knocking down three-pointers but is still too much of a defensive liability to play major minutes. USF dominated the Knights in this department with Dominique Jones, a big physical junior guard, who scored 27 points. If Speraw can find a way to hide him on defense, then he should be in the game as much as possible. Otherwise, the Knights can’t afford to sacrifice perimeter defense, despite the offense he brings.
Jordan has just gotten to the second level in the past three or four games. He had 11 points in the loss to USF as he handled the ball late in the game in half court situations, much like former UCF player Dave Noel. His biggest problem right now is passing in transition and turning the ball over a little too much. Other than that, he has become one of UCF’s best perimeter defenders because of his strength and is a reliable scorer and shooter from three.
Taylor Young, P.J. Gaynor, and Jakub Kusmieruk are the third level of players for the Knights. I don’t mind them playing a lot if a level two player is struggling, but otherwise, they should only be seeing the floor for 10 minutes or less.
Young looked for a second last year like he might become a starter this season alongside Rompza, but he isn’t quite there yet. He’s a nice backup point guard to have and if he shot more I’d have no problem with him playing as much as he is right now. He was a huge problem on defense against USF and just hacked the ball handlers like crazy. And Rompza is just simply better at making plays right now, so there is no need for them to split time when Rompza has the endurance to play major minutes.
Gaynor is finally not starting, with Clanton being inserted into the starting lineup in UCF’s last game against Bethune-Cookman. Gaynor is a nice change of pace as an energy guy off the bench for the Knights, but can’t be expected to play more than 10-12 minutes effectively. He does a decent job getting rebounds, but when he is in with Tyler as the four and five men, they simply do not get enough boards for the Knights to stay with the better teams on their schedule.
And then there is big Kuba. He really has no business ever playing more than five minutes a game right now and should only be used if the Knights really want to change the pace and go to a 2-3 zone or if they are playing against a tiny team. He does just about nothing offensively and despite being 7'4", he cannot hold on to a rebound to save his life. If the Knights are losing and need to come back, he can’t be in the game.
The Knights have No. 14 Connecticut next and are then hosting a Holiday tournament against teams they should beat, before playing at Ole Miss. Wins against Connecticut or Ole Miss are looking unlikely right now, but would be huge to help turn this team in the right direction before conference play starts.
The Knights aren’t going to have a chance in those games if they limit the minutes of their best players and shuffle their lineup as much as they have been to start the season.
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Photo courtesy of www.ucfsports.com.